Obama’s Shock Doctrine

Paging Naomi Klein. In her book The Shock Doctrine, the left-wing polemicist claimed that right-wing governments — which she defined very broadly — take advantage of crises, or “shocks,” to implement their dastardly policies of free trade, privatization, and tax cuts. Well, one government has now announced its intention to take advantage of an economic crisis to implement “things you could not do before.” And since this government no doubt includes a lot of people who have read Naomi Klein, she may very well be able to take credit for giving them the idea.

According to the Wall Street Journal, President-elect Obama’s first and most central appointee is excited at the opportunities presented by the current economic shock:

Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, speaking to a Wall Street Journal conclave of business leaders Tuesday, said the economic crisis facing the country is “an opportunity to do things you could not do before.”

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Mr. Emanuel said.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Klein’s fans would be all over that if a Republican had said it. Instead, Paul Krugman praises that very line. Maybe he’s learned a few things from Naomi Klein, too.

In Crisis and Leviathan, Robert Higgs demonstrated that government growth in the United States has not been slow and steady, year in and year out. Rather, its scope and power tend to shoot up during wars and economic crises. Occasionally, around the world, there have been instances where a crisis led to free-market reforms. Generally, though, governments seek to expand their power, and they take advantage of crises to do so. But they rarely spell their intentions out as clearly as Rahm Emanuel did.

See Klein’s thesis skewered by Johan Norberg here and here, and by Jonathan Chait here.